Seafarer's professions and ranks

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Seafarers hold a variety of professions and ranks, and each of these roles carries unique responsibilities which are integral to the successful operation of a seafaring vessel. A ship's bridge, filled with sophisticated equipment, requires skills differing from those used on the deck, which houses berthing and cargo gear, which requires skills different from those used in a ship's engine room, and so on.

The following is only a partial listing of professions and ranks. Ship operators have understandably employed a wide variety of positions, given the vast array of technologies, missions, and circumstances that ships have been subjected to over the years. Usually, seafarers work on board a ship between three and six years. Afterwards they are well prepared for working in the European maritime industry ashore.[1] A ship's crew can generally be divided into four main categories: the deck department, the engineering department, the steward's department, and other. Generally, there are some differences between naval and civilian seafarers. One of them is that the seafarers on merchant vessels are usually not of the same nationality, so that special cross-cultural training is required, especially with regard to a lingua franca.[2] Moreover, administrative work has increased considerably on board, partly as an effect of increased focus on safety and security. A study shows that due to this development certain skills are missing and some are desired, so that a new degree of flexibility and job sharing has arisen, as the workload of each crew member also increases.[3]

Modern ship's complement[edit]


The captain or master is the ship's highest responsible officer, acting on behalf of the ship's owner. Whether the captain is a member of the deck department or not is a matter of some controversy, and generally depends on the opinion of an individual captain. When a ship has a third mate, the captain does not stand watch.

The captain is legally responsible for the day-to-day affairs of the ship as he is in command. It is his responsibility to ensure that all the departments under him perform legally to the requirements of the ship's owner.[clarification needed] The captain represents the owner and hence is called "master".

Deck department[edit]

Chief officer/Chief mate[edit]

Epaulettes worn by the chief officer on merchant ships (similar to those worn by a commander in the commonwealth navies)

The chief officer/first mate (often called the chief mate in the United States) is the head of the deck department on a merchant vessel, second-in-command after the ship's master. The chief mate's primary responsibilities are the vessel's cargo operations, its stability, and supervising the deck crew. The mate is responsible for the safety and security of the ship, as well as the welfare of the crew on board. The chief mate typically stands the 4-8 navigation watch. Additional duties include maintenance of the ship's hull, cargo gears, accommodations, the life saving appliances and the firefighting appliances. The chief mate also trains the crew and cadets on various aspects like safety, firefighting, search and rescue, and various other contingencies. The chief officer assumes command of the whole ship in the absence or incapacitation of the master.

Engineering department[edit]

The engineers are also called technical officers. They are responsible for keeping the ship and the machinery running. Today, ships are complex units that combine a lot of technology within a small space. This includes not only the engine and the propulsion system, but also, for example, the electrical power supply, devices for loading and discharging, garbage incineration and fresh water generators.[4]

Chief engineer[edit]

The chief engineer on a merchant vessel is the official title of someone qualified to oversee the engine department. The qualification for this position is colloquially called a "Chief's Ticket".

The Chief Engineer, commonly referred to as "The chief", or just "chief", is responsible for all operations and maintenance that have to do with all machinery and equipment throughout the ship. He may be paid on par with the captain, although he is never responsible for the action of ship. The chief engineer cannot assume command and the command always rests with the Captain of the ship, unless it is clearly mentioned within the safety management system.[citation needed]

Second engineer/first assistant engineer[edit]

The second engineer or first assistant engineer is the officer responsible for supervising the daily maintenance and operation of the engine department. He or she reports directly to the chief engineer.

Fourth engineer/third assistant engineer[edit]

The fourth engineer or third assistant engineer is junior to the second assistant engineer/third engineer in the engine department. The most junior marine engineer of the ship, he or she is usually responsible for electrical, sewage treatment, lube oil, bilge, and oily water separation systems. Depending on usage, this person is called "The Third", or "The Fourth", and usually stands a watch. Moreover, the fourth engineer may assist the third mate in maintaining proper operation of the lifeboats. In the U.S. fleet, it is not uncommon for the third engineer to carry the nickname "Turd Third" due to his/her sewage treatment responsibilities.[citation needed]

Electrical department[edit]

Electrotechnical Officer[edit]

The electrotechnical officer is in charge of all the electrical systems on the ship. Electrical engineer is one of the most vital positions in the technical hierarchy of a ship and engineer is responsible for their assigned work under the chief engineer’s instructions.

Some shipping companies do not carry electrical officers on their ship to cut down the manning cost and the electrical duties are carried by some one from the engineer’s side, normally third engineer. However, many companies realized that electrical and electronic system requires some extra attention and therefore require an expert to attend them.[citation needed]

As the technology is advancing, more and more automations and electronic circuit is replacing conventional and electrical systems. Hence the international Maritime Organisation (IMO) amended STCW 95 on 25 June 2010 known as Manila amendment, to introduce a certified position of Electro-technical officer in place of electrical officer.[citation needed]

Steward's department[edit]

Chief steward[edit]

The chief steward directs, instructs, and assigns personnel performing such functions as preparing and serving meals; cleaning and maintaining officers' quarters and steward department areas; and receiving, issuing, and inventorying stores. The chief steward also plans menus; compiles supply, overtime, and cost control records. The steward may requisition or purchase stores and equipment. Additional duties may include baking bread, rolls, cakes, pies, and pastries.

Chief cook[edit]

The chief cook is the senior unlicensed crew member working in the steward's department of a ship. His position corresponds to that of the Bosun in the deck department, the pump man in an oil tanker, and the electrician in the engine department of a container ship or general cargo ship. He can be regarded as equivalent to a chief petty officer in the Navy.[citation needed]

The chief cook directs and participates in the preparation and serving of meals; determines timing and sequence of operations required to meet serving times; inspects galley and equipment for cleanliness and proper storage and preparation of food.[citation needed]


All other people without a certificate of competence are called ratings. They assist in all other tasks that can arise during a voyage. This includes for example, mooring, cleaning of the ship and its holds and repairing broken lines and ropes. These are physically challenging jobs and have to be done regardless of the weather.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Careers on board". Retrieved 13 December 2014. 
  2. ^ "Cross-cultural training needs of seafarers, shore-based personnel and industry stakeholders" (PDF). Retrieved 13 December 2014. 
  3. ^ Gesine Stueck. "2.1.Future demand of maritime professionals in the maritime and port industry". Retrieved 13 December 2014. 
  4. ^ "Careers on board". Retrieved 13 December 2014. 
  5. ^ "Careers on board". Retrieved 13 December 2014. 

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